The end of helmet-hair
Long hours on a Herc will kick the crap out of you. Trust me on this (and check out photo 16 here).
Getting a VIP into and out of a place like Kandahar in one piece is a massive undertaking, and the obvious question is whether it's worth it. It seems to me this question is actually more complicated than people make it out to be, because there's more than one audience watching the PM and his government's actions.
I think the Canadian people need to see the PM aggressively and proactively explaining the government's rationale for our involvement in Afghanistan. But the truth is that he can explain that from Parliament Hill. The only thing flying halfway around the world does is draw some attention to the story.
To those outside Canada - from allied governments to enemy insurgents - the PM's visit shows commitment. Sure, it's symbolic, but that's part of the point in international affairs. The name of the game here is 'resolve' and while a visit alone won't show it, a visit that backs up a strong and ongoing civilian and military presence will.
The third audience is the Canadian Forces, and specifically those on the ground in Kandahar. Some feel a political visit is about as useless as "an empty Tim Horton's coffee cup with the rim ripped off."
Perhaps in the abstract that might be true, but a visit from the PM - even a PM you don't personally like too much - is a morale booster. I remember shaking Mulroney's hand at RMC during the first Gulf War - his was the first visit by a sitting Canadian Prime Minister to the College, if memory serves. Mulroney was hardly a popular figure at that point, but his visit struck all the right notes among the military personnel stationed there.
The Canadian Forces has been ignored for so long by its elected masters that positive attention from our nation's top politician is entirely welcome, like him or not.